What do Country Music and Olives Have in Common?
When I was assigned the dispatch on country music, visions of Garth Brooks and Billy Rae Cyrus danced through my head, and let me tell you, it wasn't pleasant. But to tell you the truth, I actually listened to country music a long time ago, and was a two-stepping, line dancing fool.
Links to Other Dispatches
Now if you want to know anything about country music, just head to Nashville, Tennessee, also known as Music City, U.S.A. It seems like everyone there loves country music, and the people we stayed with took Stephanie and me out for a night of live Blue Grass music. They also played us the many different varieties of country music.
That is the first lesson in country music: every decade had its own sound. So while we may not like the sad stories of today's music, our feet were tappin' when we went to see Hoot Hester's band.
In the 1920's, it was called "Hillbilly" music because it was mostly played by the poor "mountain people" who lived in the Appalachian Mountains. But at the Grand Ole Opry, we learned that country music is much more than just an old stereotype.
When the Opry first aired in 1925, it was the first live radio program of its kind. By the early 1940s, so many people came to see the live recordings that they had to find a place large enough to house them all. The Ryman Auditorium was just the place.
The Ryman was actually built as a church in 1896. Back then, Nashville was known for its saloons, gambling, and prostitution, not its honky tonk music. Preachers like Sam Jones held revivals, where sinners could repent for their sinful, city lives. Around that time, Captain Tom Ryman was a gambling riverboat captain who owned a saloon.
One night, Captain Ryman and his friends decided to crash one of Sam Jones' revival meetings. But instead of raising a ruckus, Ryman got swept up by the revival and vowed to change his sinning ways. He decided to build the largest Tabernacle possible so that all of Tennessee could hear Sam Jones preach. By the 1920's, they also held plays and concerts there. The Grand Ole Opry has been running ever since, and it is the longest running live radio program in history. It has even been broadcast internationally over the Internet.
George Woolfe, a country music historian, told me that records used to be marketed to the upper middle class only. But when a man named Ralph Peers began traveling around the country, recording Hillbilly music out of the back of his car, the working class and black audiences started listening.
Unfortunately, the record companies were racist, and even the Grand Ole Opry would not support black musicians. But African-Americans still had a big influence on country music. When record companies turned them down, they would often become teachers for white musicians. An African American artist named Rufus "Tee Tot" Payne taught country star, Hank Williams to play the guitar.
Jenni Jo - Live at the Grand Ole Opry!
Country music is important because it told the stories of the working class. It is also the beginning of modern-day rock n' roll! Even rap music can find some roots in the story-telling of country music. Everything has a beginning, and for rock music, country was it.
If you're still feeing unsure of whether or not country music is worth your time, remember the words of country musician Hoot Hester when I asked him about liking country music. He said,
"Just listen to it a little bit. It's like eating olives. Roll it around in your mouth a bit. At first you might not understand it, but after a time, you'll start to like it!"
(Future Country Star?)
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